National Talent Development Coordinator - Sprints & Hurdles

Matt Elias


After just finishing my first decade in coaching I thought this would be a perfect time to reflect on a few things….


Why did I want to be a coach?


As a fresh-faced, twenty-something athlete, winning medals at Commonwealth & European championships, I thought everything was set and that the next 10 years of my life would be as a professional athlete.  Loads of money and plenty more medals would just follow. Sadly things didn’t pan out this way…

A few bad decisions, leading to some significant injuries and illnesses. I found myself at 28 struggling to even jog pain-free, let alone run a 400m hurdles at international race pace! It was at this point I made the decision that I want to be a coach, mainly to try and help future athletes not make the same mistakes I had and hopefully not go through some of the things that I had to go through.


Without even realising it though my mind had been on coaching for many years prior to this… while being coached myself by Linford Christie & being able to train on a daily basis with Olympic medallists Darren Campbell, Jamie Baulch & Katherine Merry. I had been keeping a training diary on not only my own sessions but would also take notes on what sessions everyone else would do. My innate thirst for knowledge was high to develop my understanding of the sport across all sprint events. During this period I was also starting to develop my coaching eye, I was always there watching Darren do his blocks sessions and offering feedback when Linford couldn’t be at sessions. This was the start of my passion for learning and helping other athletes.


What have I learnt


The biggest thing that I have realised over the last 10 years is to coach the athlete in front of you and not to coach the event.

When I first started I would write these all singing, all dancing full-year training programs that were based on my knowledge as an International 400m athlete… looking back they were probably not the most appropriate programmes for an 18-year-old student who was only just starting to specialise in the 400m. My philosophy now is very much around giving sessions/programs/feedback appropriate to each individual athlete and where they are at in their development level. Technique/Mechanics underpin everything we do in training and that trumps volumes/intensity all day long!! As soon as someone’s technique starts to break down because of fatigue or other factors we cut the session there and then. The risk vs reward for an extra rep here and there in training is to great. A big part of my learning as a coach has been understanding the principles & technical models of ‘Acceleration’ & ‘Max Velocity’ these principles/models underpin all sprint events and should be the building blocks for all our programs as sprint coaches. It's easy to set a session that makes an athlete tired & feel like they have worked, but as coaches, we should be setting sessions that teach athletes skills and develop specific physical qualities… this should be the question we are constantly asking ourselves when we reflect on our coaching practice!


I’m very much looking forward to my next decade as an athletics coach and am still as excited about where this learning journey will take me. The most common trait I have seen in all successful coaches is their own personal thirst for knowledge and willingness to share that knowledge with other coaches and athletes. If as coaches in Wales we can all aspire to share more knowledge with each other, it can only benefit the long term development of the athletes we are lucky enough to work with.


3 things you may not know about me:


  • I have a hat collection that currently boasts 25 hats/caps & 99% of the time I will have a hat on while coaching
  • Once at the European Champs in 2002 my hair started to fall out after bleaching my hair 4 times in 5 weeks!
  • My dad still holds the Welsh Schools Long Jump record (longest standing record) & I never won a gold medal at the Welsh Schools Champs…. A fact he takes great delight in reminding me!